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Economists’ fear over Modicare

Prime Minister Modi’s flagship healthcare scheme has sparked some serious misgivings among economists in a closed-door meeting with government officials

The Centre’s flagship healthcare scheme – Ayushman Bharat – has faced funding concerns ever since it was announced. A meeting between economists and government officials has done little to allay those fears.

Ayushman Bharat – or, to give it its full title, Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) – includes provisions to cover the 100 million households anticipated to be beneficiaries for hospitalisation. Yet economists from Institute of Economic Growth (IEG) have warned that the Centre’s allocation for this cover could only reach thirty per cent of its target. This year’s Union Budget saw Rs 6,400 crore earmarked for Ayushman Bharat, constituting around ten per cent of the total health budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

“Households are covered for Rs 5 lakh worth of hospitalisation cover yearly…Economists…say this may not be enough.”

Under the scheme, households are covered for Rs 5 lakh worth of hospitalisation cover yearly. The amount earmarked for hospitalisation cover under the scheme is likely only be sufficient to only provide for hospital cover for thirty million households. Already 1.2 million beneficiaries have availed hospital treatment under the scheme, it is reported.

Economists, who had been invited by India’s Finance Commission to provide an estimate for how much Ayushman Bharat is likely to cost, say this may not be enough. The true cost could result in its budget swelling to unmanageable proportions – in the process subsuming much of the Centre’s funds for other health services.

Economists warn that increased rates of hospitalisation – in line with a trend witnessed in recent years – would force the Centre to increase investment to satisfy the existing need.

While the representatives from the IEG have not publicly commented on the presentation delivered to government officials, early reports do not bode well. When the IEG’s final report is presented to the Finance Commission, the Centre could be in for a rude awakening.

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